[Enjoy our podcast this week that we share with our sister Maremel Network podcast, Creative Innovators.]
Dick Huey claims that his career jumps have been “educated luck.” “Because they they are luck. And I’m, I’m I don’t ever pretend that I have more information than everybody else does. But I think I’m good at identifying opportunity. So for me, this felt like opportunity. And I jumped at it. And then of course that launched a 25-year career in digital music.” And so Dick shares with us his 25-year career, ranging from teaching software applications to getting his first music management client to building his digital music chops at Beggars Group to building Toolshed. He works now on his three-legged stool of interests: helping big picture enhancements of the music business, working with record companies, and engaging in ed tech and new technologies.
Guest: Dick Huey, Founder/President, Toolshed
Dick Huey moved to New York City in 1997 to work for independent label powerhouse the Beggars Group (XL Recordings, 4AD, Matador Records, Rough Trade. He created and staffed the group’s digital media department as global head of digital in the early days of digital music, determined the group’s strategic direction, and licensed its groundbreaking catalog of world-class independent music from artists like the Pixies, the Prodigy, Throwing Muses, and many others.
Huey launched his NY Hudson Valley-based digital strategy company Toolshed in 2002, long before remote work was in vogue. Toolshed offered an early bespoke label and artist digital marketing, direct music service licensing, and download hosting service that created groundbreaking digital campaigns for Arcade Fire, Sufjan Stevens, Indigo Girls, Ani DiFranco, and Aimee Mann amongst hundreds of hundreds of others. Labels and distributors including Matador Records, Beggars Group, The Orchard, Touch and Go, PIAS, Righteous Babe, and Merge Records were also clients.
In 2010, Toolshed expanded into music rights acquisition for consumer brands, media, tech, sports, and entertainment companies. Spotify contracted with Huey to lead its US independent label licensing efforts prior to and during Spotify’s US launch in 2011. Red Bull Music Radio, SoundExchange, 8tracks, Digital Rights Agency, Red Mountain Ski Resort, Jaxsta, and Tunecore are all past clients or advisory relationships.
Huey is currently a Business Development Consultant to AIMS API, an artificial intelligence music search platform based in the Czech Republic, as well as to Entertainment Intelligence, a high end music analytics platform for direct-license content owners. He is a music license consultant to the US independent record label Merge Records and to stealth cloud radio startup HijackRadio, and an advisor to Techstars accelerator winner Paperchain and Australian personal social media monetization platform OkTY.
Outside of the music industry, Huey is a senior teaching assistant at NYU Professor Scott Galloway’s two-year old educational sprint startup Section4. Huey regularly TA’s online classes of up to 200 students on the topics of Subscription strategy, Brand, Platform, Product, Data Analytics, Growth Innovation (brand association with physical stores), and Storytelling. Several of the classes Huey TA’s are taught by Galloway himself.
He held a 9-year board seat at SoundExchange representing Matador Records. He is a past Executive Director and board chairman of the Future of Music Coalition, based in Washington DC. He was chairman of the new media committee at the American Association of Music (A2IM) from its earliest days, as well as a consultant to independent entity the Association of Independent Music (AIM).
Huey is a USSA-certified downhill ski racing coach and committed biker and mountain biker. He moved from the New York area to the Columbia River Gorge in 2021. He began his career as a musician, then a music manager, and signed and managed several artists to the Beggars Group and Glitterhouse Records.
- Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/toolshed/
- Twitter: @dhuman
- Website: https://toolshed.biz | merge records digital | aims api | section4 | entertainment intelligence
- blog: Digging in the Dirt
Welcome to Creative Innovators. Today we're gonna have Dick Huey from Toolshed and many other adventures.Gigi Johnson:
You have how many hats now? How many different things do you do now?Dick Huey:
So really, my business now is broken into three verticals. The first vertical, and this is gonna sound a little wonky, but this is what we do. So we're a wonky company. The first vertical is really focused on business development for post revenue, middleware or business to business software that's used inside the music industry. And, you know, clientsGigi Johnson:
probably lost half our audience already with that with their we might have, yeah, yep. Somebody. So So what is the company? And what is it? What's the sorts of business to business? Well, company name is . . .Dick Huey:
Company name is Toolshed, that's my company.Gigi Johnson:
We have a three legged stool that, loosely, I'll be less specific about it that loosely does business development, for select companies that I think have really strong products. We also do music license acquisition, usually for tech companies, but often for record labels that either are licensed in their catalog out to a digital music service, for instance, like Spotify, or Amazon, or companies that are building a music product and need licenses. So we'll acquire those licenses for them. And then the third part of what we do, I loosely put under ed tech, educational tech and new tech. And that's, that's the part of our company where I get to teach, I get to explore, I get to be an advisor for companies that are building an interesting product. But maybe they're startups and they don't really have a business model yet, or they don't have any revenue. And I get to play there to my sandbox.Gigi Johnson:
Cool. How many different careers and companies have you worked for?Dick Huey:I started my company back in:Gigi Johnson:
Whoever else was your space back then?Dick Huey:
All of those. I would do all of those a crowdedGigi Johnson:
space back then. Yeah. Now this may be before the time if some of our listeners by Mahalo, you further backwards. So you seem to wear a business hat, a tech hat and a creative hat, kind of pulling it together and integrating that. I'm going to walk those hats backwards. When you were a teenager, what was your hat? Were you a member of band? Did you code your own computer stuff? Were you you know, brokering deals with your friends to buy and sell their worldly goods? What was . . . what was Dick as a teenager? What was his heartbeat stuff?Dick Huey:me music they were playing in:Gigi Johnson:
well, what did teenagers still think you wanted to do? Then? If it wasn't this? What what did you spend your time on him? What did you decide to study at University of Michigan?Dick Huey:ck to me later and in January:Gigi Johnson:
We loop, we loop, that is one of the great things we look at back again, back then . . .Dick Huey:
I was really just a sales guy. I was someone who enjoyed selling, I enjoyed meeting people talking to people figuring out what they needed. And I thought that was where my career was gonna go into kind of did. But . . .Gigi Johnson:
So what concerts did you go to in the early 80s? In in Michigan?Dick Huey:
Yeah, it would have been the early 80s. So I got, I would say, probably the first band, this is really going to be embarrassing in future generations when I hear this, but the first embarrassingDick Huey:
is my list would be okay, well, my first concert was the Cars.Dick Huey:
That part is an embarrassing, I thought that was a great first concert to go to. But the first band that I really, really poured myself into was actually Genesis. And and it was the Peter Gabriel end of Genesis that I thought was fascinating. And did way too much air guitar into way too much. listening to records over and over and over Genesis and Joni Mitchell, those were my two touch points. And while I was at Michigan, I, I was exposed to what I loosely call New Wave. So New Order. And I thought oh, there's a whole different universe of music that I didn't know anything about out there. And that really took on serious legs a little bit later out of the teenage years. But So Michigan for me was I did a creative, creative degree. It was it was a customized degree. So I have a Bachelor of General Studies showGigi Johnson:
that if one can I'm a gigantic fan of those.Dick Huey:
Well, did you hear that? The title so the title of it was Bachelor of General Studies. I don't think you could get more general than that. But under that catch-all, I did international business. I was an exchange student in Sweden for a year. So I did Swedish language and German language. I really have always had a knack for languages. I think it's connected to my music interest. And I also did a fair bit of sort of computer related work. So I did some programming. I wasn't a great programmer. But I definitely explored that area. And what I found was I was better at contextualizing what was happening on a computer for somebody that I was actually trying to programming or do something or create an application. And that followed me out of the University of Michigan my first my first career when I, when I sort of went all in on music, the thing that generated some money for me was in teaching software applications to classes. So I would stand up in front of the class, and I would teach them how to use Excel, or Word Perfect, or some of these really early Lotus 12, Lotus 123, all of it. And it was all of those things, it was the kind of thing where I could get up the morning, I had to do this, look at the application figured out enough to teach the class. So very sort of last minute, and I spent all the rest of my time playing guitar, or hanging out with musicians, and going to shows and, and, and that was how I, that's how I got into the music side of things.Gigi Johnson:
So about this time, I think we're of a similar vintage. I got accepted to USC Film School. And I had been a nice respectable international relations, public relations, double major. And my parents were so happy because they thought, ah, with film school, you'll get a job, which meant they really didn't understand the entire thing that was going on. So what did your parents think of you coming out with a general studies major, spend a lot of your time playing air, guitar and guitar? And what did they think that you were going to do? And do they have consulting type or traditional or non traditional careers? What was kind of the model for a creative or a non creative life that your family brought you?Dick Huey:
Well, so this is a an interesting question in our, in our particular family, so we had my, my mother's brother was gay. And he was an artist in New York City. So we had this a call eclectic and creative individual. Remember, I'm from Northern Michigan, so very sort of closeted, white, small part of the world. But we lived in a resort community. So there are a lot of city folk that came up. So it's a progressive community in some sense. And when my uncle would come to visit the artist of the family, you know, he would, it was the 70s, he would smoke pot. And, you know, I never saw him do it, but I'm sure he was doing it and sit and listen to Pink Floyd. And I could never quite figure it out. So we always had this sort of this individual in our family who had come into it. And I found him really, really interesting. And I think that spilled over into my parents estimation of what I was getting interested in. So it was kind of a love hate relationship. My mom, for instance, gave me a book at one point, which when I was expressing how interested I was in the music industry, the book was due to love and the money will follow. And I thought, Oh, how progressive of my mother. And then she proceeded to spend the next five years saying, This isn't going anywhere, you're not going to make money at this job. So you know, it was what it was, butGigi Johnson:
only did you have models of traditional static, single company, career regular job people, for your father is that kind of his . . .Dick Huey:
My father was, was, was always self-employed, or had partnerships. He, he was commercial real estate, is still a commercial real estate broker. And so, you know, what I recall from that time was a lot of stress around money, which manifested in my parents' relationship. But I also recall sort of the sexiness, if you will, of having your own thing, I've never had a corporate model, really, anywhere inside my family. So, you know, I think I was predisposed at a pretty early age to try to do something on my own. And I did, you know, in those years post college, I thought at one point that the way you made yourself look impressive, and like you had it all together was coming up with as many different things to do as you could. And so when someone would ask me, what do you do? I would say, Well, I sell water filters, and I teach computer classes and I have this idea for an exercise machine that my uncle started and you know, I thought that was what people were looking for, I thought they wanted to see how many things I was engaged in. And what I came to realize, you know, 20 years later, was no, you got to focus, you got to drill down into something, people are looking for you to have specific expertise, and digital music was that specific expertise. But to get to that point, I had to move out of a really specific interest in the music business, which basically involves going out to, you know, shows three or four nights a week at a club, living with musicians living extremely hand to mouth, I can, I can remember many instances where I would think, Alright, I'm going to sell a CD. So I can go get some a burrito tonight for dinner, and playing guitar, you know, trying to live the life, if you will, but not really doing the other part of it, which is, which is creating music that might have a business attached to it in some way or another. So I was sort of going through all the motions, but not really during the creation part. And what I found out pretty quickly was I was better at the business side of it than I was at the performance side of it. I did perform a play with Vic Chestnutt once, opened for him, that was probably a highlight of my career as a musician. But as soon as I found my first management client, who I signed to a small record label over in Germany called Glitterhouse Records. I thought this is actually where I want to plant my flag. I did tour management for her on a seven-week European tour, which was a great lucky coincidence, I got to drive the van I got to try to meld a bunch of very disparate personalities in one van together and hold them all together and not have them fight with me or with themselves. And I kept doing that tour management in the following years. And the artist management piece and know what yours were these would have been in the late 80s I started that my first client was out in Portland and and then following with to the CD days, those are CD days. Yeah. And following with two other management clients, both of whom were assigned to beggars group or to Beggars Banquet at the time. So that the first one June was a band that had a lot going on in Chapel Hill, right I had been living in in North Carolina prior to that and got very close with this band. They had two offers on the table one from Epic Records, one Beggars Banquet. They took the Beggars Banquet offer which I think shocked the A&R guy from Epic. And I'm not sure we recovered from that for a while. And we put out a genius record that was produced by Jim Rondinelli, so you know, all of the I sort of put all the pieces, pieces in place, I thought for a great career in management. You know, the record came out on Beggar's they did their first North by Northeast up in Toronto, and then the band split. And so I panicked and tried to put it back together, couldn't put it back together five very different personalities in one band. But by that point, I had established a relation or relationship with Beggars Group.Dick Huey:
Beggars Banquet, more specifically, who had just opened a new office in New York. And over the the next couple years, I signed a second band to Beggars this band Stella, that was Kurt Perkins and Alan Johnstone, Charles Wyrick, and Preach [Rutherford]. A couple of guys from Nashville, super talented, very loud, very heavy. And, and this is going to officially connect me to the music business now. So three weeks three,Gigi Johnson:
music business working as a working as a guitar player and managing bands that are started. That's all still to music business. It's just not heavy in the business. Well,Dick Huey:
well, it was all it was all investing in my future, if you will. So I hadn't really made I made I probably made under $10,000 aggregate for 10 years of work in music. So I thought of it as my career. It really was more of a hobby. But about three weeks before, before Stella's initial record was supposed to come out on Beggars Group or Beggars Banquet, the marketing guy at Beggars quit. And so I called the label ahead, we both panic. And I said, "Alright, I'm gonna move to New York, and I will run marketing. So there's going to be marketing on this record." And Beggars Banquet bit on that. And that's how I moved from where I was at the time and over Michigan with a wife and two small kids to New York City. AndGigi Johnson:
so this was a jump, this is a pivot this was a, I'm now going to do this. Now I'm assuming that you made more than $10,000. During this time to feed wife, children or wife was working or children were working. What was the other mix of your life when you were juggling the music and management side of your life? What else was the skills you're building with other stuff?Dick Huey:
So, so the, the income generation was not on the music side. The income generation was on, I had a company called A-Train. And it was on the training side and custom configuration of computers, both Macintosh and PC. So this is mid 90s . . .Gigi Johnson:
Which was a big deal back then. it was . . . people didn't know how to do any of this stuff.Dick Huey:
Yeah, teaching people how to use their computers. And it was easy, it was something that I could, that I could balance with spending as much of my time as possible on the music side of what I did. You know, in contrast to what happens today, there weren't, I mean, there were very few music programs full on music programs. At that time. It was either probably Berkelee, or maybe one or two other schools. At least on the on the business side of music, there were plenty of music programs. But if you wanted music business, you really kind of winged it. And so the last thing I would say about that that chunk of history is by doing all these different parts of the music business, being a manager booking my own tours, being a tour manager going out with Ron Sexsmith and Sarah McLachlan and a number of other bigger artists at the time doing a shed to or understanding what it means for the stage to be dark when you arrived there. I learned all these bits and pieces of the music industry by doing them. So when I actually came to Beggars Banquet, I had a pretty good, pretty good idea of what the music industry was from a manager's perspective, which of course isGigi Johnson:
an accidentally well rounded experience andDick Huey:
accidentally well rounded experience. That's exactly right.Gigi Johnson:
So marketing then because people think probably a marketing now and have a probably a totally different idea of what music marketing is and was so when you came into this, you were stepping into marketing having not really done it this way before what was this marketing job that you stepped into? And then was there any magic or bizarreness of it for walking into somebody else's shoes who just walked out the door?Dick Huey:
So Cory [Brennan], the guy that walked out the door, became a huge manager in his own right. And later years, he now manags Slipknot, and has for many years, he runs 5B Management. So yes, Korea was a great marketer at the time. And and I came in, I came in to the radio departments Beggars Banquet at that time was a really small label in the US. I was working for Lesley Bleakley who ran the office. And there were only three other people in the office. There was Brendan Burke, who ran publicity. Jim Heffernan ran sales and IT, or sales, more sales. And then I came in, in a quasi sort of radio promotion, ad placement. And IT role. And you know, as I brought in a lot of my sort of . . .Gigi Johnson:
Wow, that's an interesting. Yeah, combination. Yeah,Dick Huey:
It was a weird combo.Gigi Johnson:
Especially for the time, where people didn't necessarily equate marketing and IT needing to be even talking to each other much.Dick Huey:I got into digital music. So:Gigi Johnson:
Well, I think also from the stories you've told, so far, you have a appetite for taking a bigger risk. And some people have really different appetites for that we've had lots of people on this show who increment a lot and it ends up steering into something that is wildly different, that's creating something new. Other people see that there's a gigantic hole and jump into filling it whether or not they have the skills. You've got a whole interesting story of iterative puzzle pieces. But then you have said yes to taking big identity leaps into the next thing to be in do that something totally different. But it's not, it's taking A-B-C -- you've been piling up and moving it to the next space. But being willing to step into the next space. It's not what a lot of people are indig . . . a lot of people we've run into in, in digital music, especially here, you either come from the outside and go, "Oh, I love music. I've been doing digital let me display something that I see from the outside is broken." Or they've been just this massive rabble-rouser or they bolted on repeatedly as the digital person in a bunch of different companies. You've sort of generated yourself but generated sort of, you know, Dick 2.0, Dick 3.0, very much like pretty much digital moniker as you move forward. But then been able to kind of own your own space with it too, which is a really great thing. Now. You, you have your time with Beggars. And so in doing digital for Beggars, what spurred the shift to Toolshed and then other things that you done what? What took you from that sort of identity and practice and building into what you're building now? And then I'll drag you into all the cool things you're doing now.Dick Huey:of the timing, because it was:Gigi Johnson:
This was early internet radio-ish, very early. So this is not interactive as much, right? So can you for those, most people in the music space should know SoundExchange? If not, that's a whole other conversation. But can you share for those who don't what SoundExchange is?Dick Huey:
Sure. So as you mentioned, SoundExchange focuses on non-interactive music. So that's that's music that you listen to passively. So you turn on your radio that's not interactive radio you hear. You're not able to influence that rather than calling the DJ and asking him to play something him or her to play something. You know, that contrasts, interactive music and interactive, fully interactive music is what the digital music services have built or are building. And that would be that would be Apple Music. That would be now Spotify. And in those early days, companies like GoodNoise, with GoodNoise, which became eMusic -- you might remember them. And certainly Rhapsody was around at the, at that point. They were one of the very early interactive, digital streaming companies where you could listen to any music that you wanted to. So all of this was pretty experimental . . .Gigi Johnson:
You couldn't skip more than x per hour so that you were essentially listening to someone's curated example and experience. Pandora, Live365, I think is back but at the time other folks where you had a more passive listening experience -- direct curated experience, which was for a lot of people their online music.Dick Huey:t recall in the middle of the:Gigi Johnson:hat now then is, is Dick Huey:Dick Huey:nside the music business from:Gigi Johnson:
. . . not just tech, it sounds like, but being a bridge to tech, the bridge to tech to be an accelerator for tech.Dick Huey:
Yeah. And accelerator for tech. You know, the first, the first long-term relationship that I had in the tech world was probably with Jaksta. So that was a company that I worked with, for, for the last six and a half years, with a very forward-thinking business model, and one that the music industry had not really wrap their head around focused on something that's not sexy music metadata. But that is incredibly important. And I was able to be with that company, and, you know, the guys have their head of licensing and, and share the importance of metadata with not only independent record labels, but with the major record labels, and get their heads wrapped around why this all mattered. I would say there was a broad understanding of why what I was doing, you know, either was important, or, or wasn't important. I probably didn't say that quite right. But I guess what I'm getting trying to get across is it was a ton of education.Gigi Johnson:
Who is it important to and why? Because a lot of it is that, I was about to say that, even again, we've talked about metadata on prior shows. But for some people, it's like, well, what is metadata? Is it just having the right author, songwriter name on the piece and its depth and its layers? It's good, it's, it's all the information that could be about the track, but that's including who played on the track? And a lot of it is early on was messy and junk and inappropriately put, right? I mean, so part of it is that it's, it's not just the way you track back to how money goes back to the song, but it's lots of information about the track.Dick Huey:the original iTunes player in:Gigi Johnson:
. . . and we could probably spend a half hour last Web3 and DAOs. So DAOs we haven't talked about, I don't think, yet, on, on this show, distributed autonomous organizations, right?Dick Huey:
Which . . I know that Cherie Hu has been building her one long with her token that goes with that and that's probably even a whole deeper rabbit hole than the time of it. And maybe we can do a follow up conversation on next-generation communities, which could be really cool. But you're teaching also there, right,Dick Huey:
I teach for I teach for Scott Galloway's new company. So he has an edtech company, educational tech. And for those of your listeners who know Scott is just reputation precedes him if you don't know who he is, he's an NYU professor. He's also a serial entrepreneur, he's had a couple spectacular flameouts. And a couple very spectacular exits, and is now he does a podcast with Kara Swisher, he does his own podcast, he was on CNN, he's regularly on a wide variety of business shows. So you know, I became really interested in the financial tech space. And I'm still very interested in it, and did some consulting and advisory work for a couple of different companies, including paper chain, which was focused on optimizing sort of the payment process for, for artists and for labels in digital music. And I thought, Okay, I can't do worse than upping my financial gain. So I'm going to associate with this business leader, who's got great command of financial space and financial lingo. And, as it happened, I took a very early class that he offered in in subscription strategy, and got noticed and was asked to be a teaching assistant for subsequent classes. And since that time, about a year and a half ago, I've taught 15 different classes for the company. So that's been a ton of fun, and a real learning experience, and opportunity to move outside of our fairly small music business, to a global cohort of companies working in CPG. And big corporations. So gave me access to a part of the music are a part of the business world that I've never really got. I never really had corporate experience. And all of a sudden, I was in a position to talk to people who had worked for corporations their whole life, and understand, you know, what it was like to work a corporation. And, and you know, the unique challenges that you have when you work a corporation. So it rounded out my background. And that's why I did it, and why I'm still doing it.Gigi Johnson:
So we've covered a lot here, we talked a lot about your iterative career building, which has been some big pivots, but wonderful expansions into new spaces. We talked about you, what did you do when you started out? And you have two kids? What journey path have they seen of yours is kind of three kids, three kids. So what journey paths have they taken from your journey? And where are they going is my last question as we get toward the wrap upDick Huey:ou know, on one hand, back in:Gigi Johnson:
Dick, it's been great, we've covered so much, is there anything else you want to mention before we close out here today?Dick Huey:
Um, I think the only thing I would say is, you know, I'm, I feel very blessed to have been able to come up in music, and make choices that weren't, that weren't tied to climbing a corporate ladder. And also, to have been able to make a really, really wide friends circle and network of music industry colleagues, not just in independent music, but in the major label space in the tech space. I think I'm very fortunate to have been able to do that. And the way that I've been able to kind of pull that all together is by always being open and willing to take that phone call from somebody who needed a hand or a leg up, either starting in the business, or someone who's thinking about changing careers. You know, without ever being really sure where it was how that was going to come back to me or whether it was even going to compete with me, at some level or another. So I feel happy to have had the sort of self confidence, if you will, to go out and be that networker who pulls together disparate groups, you know, going back to when I was a kid, you know, being captain in university, Michigan ski team, to early digital music days, you know, creating a digital music collective, around around heads of digital and independent record labels. All of this has worked for me in my career, and whenever I talk to people who are getting into the music business, and they say, How do I do? How do I do this? How do I do that? I say, you know, you have to get to give, or you have to give to get and and giving means giving without an expectation of something coming back to you. So if you can do that, if you can be that person that assembles other people, that helps other people collectivise in one way or another, you're gonna find a path, you're going to find connections, you're going to find people that want to be in your orbit. And so, yeah, that's my big blessing. And and the thing that I'm still trying to do almost 60 years old here andGigi Johnson:
hey, so Deke, who would you like to reach out to you on how would you like them to reach out to you?Dick Huey:
Well, I'm, I'm always available on social So, I think the best place to connect with me is probably over LinkedIn. I'm not on Facebook as much as I used to be these days, and I really try to reserve that for more personal friends. So you know, follow me on socials, I'm pretty active on Twitter. At D human D Hu M as in Mary a And as Nancy, or on LinkedIn, find me there you can find our website at at tool shed dot biz B as in boy, I Z. And, and I encourage people to write reach out to me, I always answer emails. I'm sure somebody's gonna write in Saline never answered my email, but I always try to answer emails. I'm pretty good about it. And I love hearing from people. I love hearing new ideas. I love you know, people reaching out to me and saying, I've got this problem inside this complex business we call music. Can you help me fix it? So I encourage people to reach out and I'll be here to listen.Gigi Johnson:
Sounds great. Thanks for joining us.